Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government Power Hardware Technology

DOE Wants 5X Improvement In Batteries In 5 Years 305

Posted by Soulskill
from the charging-scientists-with-this-task dept.
dcblogs writes "The U.S. Dept. of Energy has set a goal to develop battery and energy storage technologies that are five times more powerful and five times cheaper within five years. DOE is creating a new center at Argonne National Laboratory, at a cost of $120 million over five years, that's intended to reproduce development environments that were successfully used by Bell Laboratories and World War II's Manhattan Project. 'When you had to deliver the goods very, very quickly, you needed to put the best scientists next to the best engineers across disciplines to get very focused,' said U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, on Friday. The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research isn't designed to seek incremental improvements in existing technologies. This technology hub, according to DOE's solicitation (PDF), 'should foster new energy storage designs that begin with a "clean sheet of paper" — overcoming current manufacturing limitations through innovation to reduce complexity and cost.' Other research labs, universities and private companies are participating in the effort."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

DOE Wants 5X Improvement In Batteries In 5 Years

Comments Filter:
  • Chu! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrbluejello (189775) on Friday November 30, 2012 @05:56PM (#42149223)

    It's so refreshing having a Secretary of Energy that actually knows something about energy and physics, rather than somebody who just knows how to dig carbon out of the ground.

    • Re:Chu! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @06:38PM (#42149751)

      Right. 5 years to develop 5X cheaper and 5X more energy dense? How gullible are you?

      The free market doesn't solve all problems, but any company that could deliver this would make hundreds of billions of dollars. Why aren't they doing it? Because nobody knows how!

      This $120 million is good research, but it isn't going to deliver. Dr. Chu will certainly be glad that the deadline is past the time that he will be out of office.

      • Re:Chu! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by BasilBrush (643681) on Friday November 30, 2012 @09:18PM (#42151311)

        Right. 5 years to develop 5X cheaper and 5X more energy dense? How gullible are you?

        AC in 1962: "Right. 10 years to develop develop a rocket ship to land a man on the moon and return him? How gullible are you?"

        • by bloodhawk (813939)
          I can assure you that they weren't asked to do that the minimal budget that this is being proposed at, if they had said here is 50 billion to develop 5x cheaper and 5x more energy dense in 5 years, it would be at best a hail mary chance of achieving it, to do it on 120 million over 5 years would take incredible luck.
      • by dbIII (701233) on Friday November 30, 2012 @11:31PM (#42152129)
        It's taken decades from initial R&D to the current batteries. Some of the stuff that was only working in the lab when I was a student 20+ years ago is now becoming commercially available and there's a lot of very interesting stuff in development now. The time lag is mostly due to limited resources being spent on R&D so a very small number of people are working on one technology at any time. Many of the things available now were improved after a long series of tests only because there were not enough people working on them to do some things in parallel.
        So to sum up, putting a bit of extra effort into some promising designs could produce results very quickly.
    • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Friday November 30, 2012 @06:42PM (#42149801) Homepage

      The idea of molten salt batteries [wikipedia.org] sounds quite intriguing to me, especially for bulk utility level energy storage. In this TED talk [ted.com], MIT professor Donald Sadoway details his designs and describes the models he has already built. In short, the idea is to have two liquid metals, one less dense and one more dense. In the middle is a layer of molten salt. The less dense molten metal floats on the top. In the middle is the molten salt, and at the bottom is the more dense molten metal. The molten salt acts as the electrolyte in the cell, and the two different metals pass electrons around due to their different electron affinities.

      When building these cells, they would use common cheap materials, so that the cost of this type of battery would be trivial compared with the amount of energy it can store. The fact that the cell is molten is actually an advantage. We spend huge effort in our current electrochemical cells trying to keep them cool. This type of cell would thrive on heat...indeed the energy used in charging and discharging it would help keep the metals and the salt molten.

      Clearly this type of cell would not be used to power your laptop or cellphone directly, but it could be used to store energy from solar panels on your rooftop, or to store energy from large solar power plants for use in the night. As always, I am sure there are bugs to work out, but really, this sounds incredibly promising.

      • by icebike (68054) * on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:43PM (#42150505)

        We need portable energy, and molten anything is not an answer.

        Its easy to give a Ted Talk, its a lot harder to offer up a practical idea. (Just look at how many TED talks are nothing but TED Talks).

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by catchblue22 (1004569)

          We need portable energy, and molten anything is not an answer.

          Its easy to give a Ted Talk, its a lot harder to offer up a practical idea. (Just look at how many TED talks are nothing but TED Talks).

          You didn't watch the TED talk, did you. If you had, you would realize that they have already built several working prototypes, around the size of a pizza dish, plus or minus. You also disregarded the implied or stated purpose, that is to store electricity generated from daytime solar electricity generation, be it in a single house or more likely on a utility scale.

        • by Jeremi (14640) on Friday November 30, 2012 @08:20PM (#42150875) Homepage

          We need portable energy, and molten anything is not an answer.

          We need portable energy, but we also need cheap bulk energy storage.

          There are lots of wind farms and solar farms out there, and the times they produce power don't always correspond with the times power is needed. This results in excess power being wasted, and also in power not being available sometimes when it is required (e.g. at night or when the wind stops).

          If we had an economic way to store lots of power, we could supplement these places with battery banks to temporarily store a few hours (or days) worth of excess power, and presto -- they'd become as reliable as coal or nuclear plants. That would make renewable energy much more usable.

          • by icebike (68054)

            That's all fine and dandy, but that is not what Cho and his program are all about.
            He wants wide applicability, tolerance of abuse, safety.

            You want to put a 700 degree C device composed of corrosive salts in the hands, with a shock hazard of gargantuan proportions in the hands of people who's video recorder is still blinking midnight?

            That kind of installation can already be built today, but nobody wants to do it on an industrial scale. (And industrial scale is the only way it makes any sense). Because when t

            • by dbIII (701233)
              That only matters if they are also the type to do their own house wiring AND the type to do it without learning or looking up how to do it first.

              Which reminds me of a joke:
              How many Border Collies does it take to change a light bulb?
              Just one, and he's rewired the house to code.
        • Its easy to give a Ted Talk, its a lot harder to offer up a practical idea. (Just look at how many TED talks are nothing but TED Talks).

          I've watched most of them, and very few of them "are nothing but TED Talks". Most are talks about stuff that's already happening in the real world. Though typically on a scale that's still small enough that most people haven't heard about it.

      • by amorsen (7485)

        The loss of heat makes molten salt batteries impractical for house use. The bare minimum size that makes sense is probably somewhere like the size of the average house, but you really want them much much larger.

      • Meh, molten is for the birds, where's my UltraCapacitors?

  • What they really need to do is make it a spec for the next DoD project and it will get done. Making batteries for the sake of batteries isn't going to provide the payback that a usable product would. Didn't the Apollo program bring us the 8-bit microprocessor? How do you think the 8-bit micro would have turned out if we just made it without a purpose?
  • So...? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GeneralEmergency (240687) on Friday November 30, 2012 @06:10PM (#42149435) Journal

    . ...I want a pony. Betcha I get my wish first.

    To think that there is not a HUGE amount of academic and commercial research in this area already is absurd. The previous 5 years has produced results that directly made a 10 hour iPad possible. If you want to spend tax dollars on this, make it an X-Prize like contest.

    This plan, as laid out, smells like "Workfare for Scientists".

    .

  • Pocket change (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ebonum (830686) on Friday November 30, 2012 @06:11PM (#42149449)

    Industry has been pouring billions into research. How is $120 million over five years going to do anything?

    Anyone who invents a technology ( and production process to keep it cheap ) to get a 5x improvement will be a billionaire over night. If you are going to do this, do it right and spend some real money. How about 250 million a year over 5 years? btw. The if the US government pays for it, the US government should patent everything and get a 5x return for the taxpayers.

    • Then the patent belongs to the people, which includes American business.

      Everything the government develops, that isn't classified, is in the public domain, as it should be as *I* paid for it.

    • Industry has been pouring billions into research. How is $120 million over five years going to do anything?

      Anyone who invents a technology ( and production process to keep it cheap ) to get a 5x improvement will be a billionaire over night. If you are going to do this, do it right and spend some real money. How about 250 million a year over 5 years? btw. The if the US government pays for it, the US government should patent everything and get a 5x return for the taxpayers.

      The consumer/taxpayer gets money taken out of their paycheck for federal income taxes for R&D. The government would spend the money on research and development. Once developed and patented, the government would collect royalties on the patent from the corporations who would pass the cost on to the consumer in the cost of products and services.

      Once again, the consumer takes it in the rear. I say let industry continue to pour money into research and leave out the government middle-man.

    • by Bengie (1121981)
      Too many patents for the private sector to navigate. If the government does the research and gives it out for free, then there's no questions. I don't know, just babbling.
    • Industry has been pouring billions into research. How is $120 million over five years going to do anything?

      Anyone who invents a technology ( and production process to keep it cheap ) to get a 5x improvement will be a billionaire over night. If you are going to do this, do it right and spend some real money. How about 250 million a year over 5 years? btw. The if the US government pays for it, the US government should patent everything and get a 5x return for the taxpayers.

      While I agree more money would be awesome (and surely if they're doing good things it will come), you don't seem to get the premise. The industry isn't pouring all of their "billions" into a collective research environment with the aim of brand new tech. It is fragmented with the majority of players focused on iterative improvements to the existing technology which they're already heavily invested in. It's not easy to sell R&D costs to shareholders when there is nothing other than a goal, investors wan

    • Re:Pocket change (Score:5, Insightful)

      by skids (119237) on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:34PM (#42150397) Homepage

      Industry only pours money into research they think they will help their own company exclusively and/or which they can turn around into a profit in under X business quarters.

      These national labs do the basic research that industry fails to fund.

  • I hate power cords with a passion!

    It would be great to see something like the microfusion cells, or small energy cells from the Fallout games. When I played FO1 and ran across those for the first time, I was intrigued and fascinated.

  • by Beerdood (1451859) on Friday November 30, 2012 @06:15PM (#42149511)
    [wikipedia.org]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_encumbrance_of_large_automotive_NiMH_batteries [wikipedia.org]

    Sorry for a wiki link, too lazy to look up more sources. Basically we'd have better battery technology if Oil & Car companies didn't deliberately stifle technology
    • by amorsen (7485)

      Or cheaper, inferior NiMH batteries would have stifled the research into lithium batteries.

  • Enough $? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by markdavis (642305) on Friday November 30, 2012 @06:17PM (#42149525)

    $120 million really doesn't sound like enough money to me to solve a problem that has been the bane of thousands of electronics companies for many decades....

    Still, this is a VERY worthy cause. Batteries have improved a lot over the years, but not nearly fast enough to keep up with what we need. Especially important as we move ever closer to electric cars (I would just LOVE to have one).

    And it isn't just the capacity and price that is important- safety and component scarcity and disposal concerns should be addressed too.

    • I believe magnets are the biggest issue or more specifically rare earth magnets. Batteries are great but we'll need efficient motors to go with them and that requires rare earth minerals which are in heavy demand and tightly controlled.

      • by skids (119237)

        Switched variable reluctance motors [wikipedia.org] need very little in the way of rare earth elements. If rare earth magnets become too pricey before they figure out a nanostructure that doesn't need these elements to be a good magnet, then we could always use those. I'm inclined to bet on the latter, though the former will probably crop up from place to place.

      • by amorsen (7485)

        Tesla uses plain boring AC motors without permanent magnets. Yes, the efficiency is a bit lower, but if we can get 5 times as much battery capacity, losing 5% on the motor without rare earth magnets doesn't seem all that bad.

    • by Bengie (1121981)
      IBM's senior research engineer thought we'd have batteries with 100x the storage in the next 10 years and he only said this a few years back. I have read about a new battery tech that was in the safety testing phase that could recharge 10x faster than current batteries and could hold about 10x-100x the charge for the same size. It already works functionally, it just needs to be shown to not be a fire hazard and pass a lot of testing.
  • Making babies (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jamesl (106902) on Friday November 30, 2012 @06:22PM (#42149587)

    We all know that nine women can't make a baby in one month but Chu thinks that they can if they work for the government and he throws enough money at them.

    Five years is conveniently after the current administration has left the building.

    • by vell0cet (1055494)
      "A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at."

          -- Bruce Lee
      • "A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at."

        Indeed. Lets say this project made no improvement in capacity, and only acheived a 2 fold reduction in cost. That would be a HUGE improvement, and go a long way toward making electric/hybrid cars economically viable. That would be worth it even for ten times the investment of $120M.

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      give me nine willing fertile nubile women and I'll show you nine months of one baby per month. the nubile part is so I'll be happy doing it.

  • by Nyder (754090)

    fucking time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @06:29PM (#42149671)

    Perhaps the DOE knows we're going to run out of cheap hydrocarbon fuel faster than we can manage. 5x improvement in current battery storage density (per weight) will make affordable and practical electric vehicles pretty much pop up over night.

    We can improve electric infrastructure. Petrol fuel transportation and distribution is actually pretty expensive and energy consuming we just take it for granted because it's already here and we've been doing it for a long time. Did you know the cost of actually shipping and moving fuel is one of the biggest factors in it's price? Fuel prices are high because refineries are on coast lines and those endless millions of galons have to be trucked everywhere. It's also one of the biggest lies of omission when petrol fuel proponents talk about pollution. They conveniently ignore the total energy cost/emission cost of the fuel distribution infrastructure itself.

    Yeah, you'd still have to generate the energy. Even if you burn things to make it think about this: What's more efficient? A few large plant-sized generators or millions of little generators you have to carry around in cars? Also, is it easier to sequester and capture emissions in a few large fixed locations, or millions of tiny moving ones?

    Electric is the way to go. The only missing link is good batteries. Once they come, we can build power lines and power plants we're good at that. Personally, I can't wait until the gas station is a thing of the past. A story to tell your children when they see an old TV show or something.

    Libertarian badmouthing aside this is what we're supposed to do with public funds. Research that benefits everyone. (Really, don't you guys have jobs during the day? How's that bootstrap factory coming along? The big bad govt still on a conspiracy to keep you from building it?)

  • But demanding it wont make it happen.

    Oh, and i want a desktop sized chocolate chip cookie synthesizer machine too. mmmm cookies..

    • by hey! (33014) on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:18PM (#42150215) Homepage Journal

      True, demanding something doesn't guarantee you get it. On the other hand, *not* demanding something *does* guarantee you won't get it.

      If nobody in the government demanded a satellite based navigation system, there wouldn't be GPS. If nobody in the government demanded a robust, survivable way of transporting data packets between heterogeneous networks, there wouldn't be the Internet. If nobody in the government demanded a way of automating a wide variety of computations, the computer as we know it wouldn't exist. Same goes for the polio vaccine -- if you don't think that's a big deal ask someone brought up before the Salk vaccine was introduced.

      Unlike the iPad or the filtered cigarette, these things were not going to be invented by the private sector (at least not soon) because once you discounted the probable profits by risk, uncertainty and delay, they weren't attractive private investments. On the other hand, the immense public need for these things justified the government investment in removing the initial uncertainties. Once the risky and uncertain parts of the problem are solved, then private investment is clearly a more efficient vehicle for making marginal improvements, which add up quickly. Kind of like shifting responsibility for low Earth orbit launches to private companies.

  • "overcoming current manufacturing limitations through innovation to reduce complexity and cost"

    Don't forget overcoming the patents own by big oil and reducing legal fees.
  • 6 years from now we will be hearing about a DOE battery project being canceled without being completed, because it's 5 years behind schedule and $700 million over budget.
    • by amorsen (7485)

      Even if that is so, it will likely save private companies a lot of money by telling them what doesn't work. That is a lot of knowledge they do not have to each research and try to keep secret from each other.

  • I want a freakin' dinosaur but nobody'll give me $120m/year to make it happen.
    • I want a freakin' dinosaur but nobody'll give me $120m/year to make it happen.

      You've got it backwards. If you want something, you are the person to give somebody else for that thing. If you really wanted a "freakin' dinosaur", you have to give somebody $120m/yr to make it happen.

  • by troutman (26963) on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:15PM (#42150187) Homepage

    Argonne has been a center for battery research and testing going back to 1976 . They have teams of materials scientists, chemists and physicists who have been working on various aspects of improving battery systems for many years, with a lot of published researched and patents. They also has one of the top 5 supercomputers in the world on-site, an entire center devoted to nanotechnology research, the biggest x-ray source around (for materials property research), and all sorts of other resources that make this more than "just another place" to do this work.

    This grant is all about combining and focusing the efforts of all sorts of other public institutions and private manufacturers, with leadership from what is truly a "critical mass" of smart folks who work at the Argonne campus.

    It is not likely to be any one "magic bullet" but lots of little improvements in each aspect of battery technology, gaining a percent or two here, a few more percent there, that when combined together will result in impressive gains. You know, like... science.

    • by siddesu (698447)
      This is not "like science", man, this is like Marxism. Remember, Marx said and Lenin confirmed it - quantitative accumulations transform into qualitative changes. I say this is a badly covered plot to leak Communism out of these batteries and into our freedoms. We should kill it with fire before it self-combusts.
  • Everybody knows that the laws of physics are written in Washington DC, right? Pass a law, and reality must bend.

    Well, everyone in Washington DC thinks so, anyway.

    • by amorsen (7485)

      5 x energy density of current commercial batteries is not at all in conflict with the laws of physics.

  • Tell them we will want two things for this increase: 1.) A lot more money than is ordinarily awarded in times past (I mean, a paltry $1 million for this kind of increase? That wouldn't cover one fiftieth of the materials cost alone for all the experiments needed to be run to achieve such a thing), and 2.) A lot of people of kind of wary of giving the military what they want when we've been involved in some, how do I put this lightly, questionable wars in recent years? That's a moral thing, as well as a mone

  • by StormyWeather (543593) on Friday November 30, 2012 @08:40PM (#42151009) Homepage

    In WW2 it was advance technology fast or the other guys could kill everyone you love. That's a pretty big motivator to cut the red tape and bullshit, and pull as a team. His will they recreate that here?

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Friday November 30, 2012 @09:07PM (#42151233)

    When you had to deliver the goods very, very quickly, you needed to put the best scientists next to the best engineers across disciplines to get very focused,

    Everything I know about management, I learned from X-Com (UFO)

  • Let the energy storage industry go belly due to unwise stock trading, then get the CONgressMEN to use taxpayer funds for a .0002% increase in efficiency. FTFY

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

Working...